University of Southern California

Thinking Ice, Not Feeling It Yet

Judith Connor, January 8, early morning — Ice… back in New Zealand, I couldn’t stop thinking of it, even as we waited out the Antarctic storm. I met with some of the students and instructors on a garden patio in the evening to compare what we’d been reading.

Kelly Dorgan, one of the students in the course, passed around an article on anchor ice. “I’m thinking about how these things affect ice accumulation,” she remarked. “Sponges have lots of surface area, which is great for filtering food, but if it’s an icy year, they get covered with ice and ripped off the bottom. But how does the ice build up, and why does it accumulate on sponges and not soft, slimy things like anemones?”

I thought about the frozen water we would soon see close at hand: frazil ice, platelet ice, anchor ice, fast ice, sea ice, glaciers, icebergs. I’ve been dreaming of diving under the ice after months of preparation in Monterey Bay. I couldn’t focus on the green of the New Zealand garden or the scent of blooming flowers. I was warming up to the topic of frozen water.

inC17.jpg

And then, finally, the call came through: We would meet the plane again and fly south today, January 8.

The whale of an aircraft can swallow up more than a hundred of us passengers and all our equipment. It’s a powerful U.S. Air Force C-17 with a range of 2,400 nautical miles that can carry more than a hundred thousand pounds of cargo; it can operate on narrow runways — even unpaved ones. Inside its cavernous belly, I stuffed foam ear plugs in my ears and longed for a safe landing on the unpaved ice.

Judith Connor, Ph.D. (not pictured in this photo of passengers on the C-17) is one of the instructors for the NSF Antarctic Marine Biology program and serves on the staff of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.